On December 20th we see a really interesting match up for the IBF Flyweight title, pitting a veteran champion against a little known challenger in a major step up. On paper the bout doesn't look the most appealing, especially to those who have followed the two men, however we suspect the reality is that this will be a lot more compelling that it looks. In fact we're genuinely expecting a very, very interesting match as the champion faces the double teaming of his opponent and father time.
The champion in question is 38 year old IBF Flyweight king Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26), the ageless wonder of South Africa. Mthalane, enjoying his second reign as the champion, will be seeking his 4th successive defense since winning the title back in July 2018, when he narrowly escaped with a win over Muhammad Waseem. In the opposite corner to the veteran champion will be little known Filipino Jayson Mama (15-0, 8), a 23 year old who has quietly been building a reputation for himself at home, with out too much fuss and attention. Although relatively unknown Mama youth on his side as well as hunger, an unbeaten record and he's still very much a fighter who is improving with every bout.
Before we go into detail about the bout it's self it is worth noting that this will be the first time in 43 bouts that Mthalane will be fighting in his home of KwaZulu-Natal. Something that may well add something extra to the bout. It could be that the emotion of being at home will help Mthalane or could, potentially, be a hindrance with the added pressure of needing to perform at home after several years of fighting on the road.
The 38 year old South African is often a forgotten man in the sport, which is a real shame as he's had an excellent 20 year career in the sport. He made his debut in December 2000, aged 18, and won his first 14 bouts before losing in 10 rounds to Nkqubela Gwazela in a South African Flyweight title. He would would bounce back from that loss with 9 straight wins, including a notable one against Hussein Hussein, in an IBF world title eliminator. That win lead to a 2008 bout with Nonito Donaire that saw Mthlane give Donaire fits before being stopped in round 6 due to a cut. In the 12 years since that loss however Mthalane has gone unbeaten, winning 16 fights, and becoming a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion.
During his 16 fight winning run Mthalane has scored really impressive and notable wins. He stopped Julio Cesar Miranda for the IBF title around a year after his bout with Donaire then went on to record 4 defenses, stopping Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez before vacating the title. He vacated due to a paltry purse bid offer for a fight in Thailand with Amnat Ruenroeng, and then, sadly, sat out of the ring for the entire year. On his return to the ring he won the IBO title, and picked up a few low key wins before re-claiming the IBF title in 2018, with a win in Malaysia over Muhammad Waseem. Since reclaiming the title Mthalane has built a reputation as a Japan-killer, beating Masahiro Sakamoto at the end of 2018, Masayuki Kuroda in May 2019 and Akira Yaegashi in December 2019.
Notably Mthalane's not fought since December 2019, and we do wonder if ring rust will be an issue here along with his age, but it's hard to deny that his record is an impressive one and is getting better with time.
In the ring the South African is a brilliant technician. He can box, he can fight, he can apply intelligent pressure. The only thing lacking is true 1-punch KO power, but he's got solid pop in his hands, excellent speed, brilliant accuracy, fantastic stamina, brilliant experience, an unerring calmness, true self belief and a brilliant ability to take a shot when he needs to. At his best he's a boxer, though when he needs to become a fighter he can, as we saw last time out against Akira Yaegashi. There are areas to pick on, and we do wonder if he can keep high work rate for 12 rounds against an aggressive fighter, but he's shown a lot to like during his long, successful, and often over-looked career.
Aged 23 Jayson Mama is very much a fighter who is slowly making a name for himself with out too much fuss, and without too much attention. He's been a professional since 2016, when he was just 18, and had created a buzz for himself following a very strong 2015 in the amateurs, picking up a number gold medals in Filipino Youth tournaments including the Philippines National Games, the Manny Pacquiao Sports Challenger and the Palaron Pambansa.
Despite having a solid 2015 in the amateurs Mama's team were cautious early on and matched him to be busy, rather than tested in 2016, when he picked up 5 wins, including one over Roland Jay Biendima which has aged excellently. In 2017 he was less active, picking up 3 wins, though did face more notable domestic names, such as Bimbo Nacionales and Rodel Tejares. He was just as busy in 2018, though managed to again move forward and achieve more, winning the WBO Oriental Youth Flyweight title, making his international debut in Macao and going 10 rounds for the first time.
Mama really moved his career forward in 2019 winning the IBF Silk Road Flyweight tournament, beating Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in the final, before stopping former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng and then beating Dexter Alimento. Sadly he has only fought once this year, and that was very much a tick over fight in February against domestic foe Reymark Taday,
In the ring Mama looks razor sharp with his jab, he looks calm and relaxed, judges distance well and likes to work with some space. On the inside he looks less effective, and looks like he can be bullied and out muscled up close, but at range he looks very solid and well schooled with a lot of ring craft. Despite being well schooled the feeling with watching Mama is that he really lacks power and physicality. His shots don't have much sting on them and he will struggle to get the respect of opponents, something we've seen him failed to do against his best opponents so far. He's a very good boxer, but we're not sure if he has toughness, the power or the strength to make a mark at the top.
For Mama this bout is a big step up and if it was just purely boxing skills he would have a decent chance against Mthalane. Both are very talented boxers, and Mama would certainly be able to hold his own. Sadly however it's the things missing with Mama that give us concern here. His lack of fight changing power, his weak inside game, and inability to back up opponents will be a massive issue for him against Mthalane. Of course Mthalane is old, and has had a hard career, but we suspect he still has enough to deal with the Filipino challenger here.
We're expecting to see Mama have a good start, using his speed and jab well, taking the early initiative before being ground down by the consistent, clean work of Mthalane, who we suspect will force a late stoppage of the Filipino challenger.
This is probably too much too soon for Mama, though we fully understand his team taking their opportunity here and rolling the dice with their young hopeful.
Prediction - Mthalane TKO11
On December 23rd in Yokohama fight fans get a really interesting card with 3 world title bouts taking place. One of those world bouts could quite fairly be described as a must win bout for both men, who know a loss will likely send them into retirement, and at very least give them little option but to seriously question their future in the sport.
That bout is the IBF Flyweight title bout, which pits current champion Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25) against 2-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi (28-6, 16). Entering the bout the 37 year old Mthalane will be looking to make his third defense, of his second reign, whilst Yaegashi will be be looking to become a 4 time champion, just a couple of months short of his 37th birthday. For Flyweights these two men are ancient and bother are grizzled veterans.
As the champion Mthalane deserves to really be credited for what is a disappointingly over-looked career. He is a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion who first won the title in 2009, when he beat Julio Cesar Miranda, and never actually lost the belt in the ring. Instead of travelling to Thailand to defend it against the then unknown Amnat Ruenroeng for pennies he vacated it. A decision that was a bad one at a time when he needed fights, but one he finally recovered from when he became a 2-time champion in 2018.
Mthalane, from South Africa, is unbeaten in over a decade, with his last loss coming to Nonito Donaire way back in 2008 and since then he has gone 15-0 (10), with notable wins over the likes of Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Ricardo Nunez, Muhammad Waseem and most recently Masayuki Kuroda.
In the ring the champion is a crafty but aggressive pressure fighter. He's not the quickest, but he is incredibly sharp, with a very high boxing IQ and unerring accuracy. His composure is excellent and he judges distance brilliantly. He knows his way around the ring, he's a natural there, and he knows how to be aggressive but safe. Notably though he is ageing, and there's always a potential question over father time, especially for a lower weight fighter in their mid 30's. Overall he's not taken much punishment but with close to 240 rounds under his belt he as certainly racked up ring miles, and miles in training.
The challenger, Yaegashi, is a fighter who will be well known to fight fans around the globe for his list of world title bouts, and other thrillers. His first world title bout came way back in 2007, hen he lost to Eagle Den Junlaphan and suffered a nasty injury in that bout. Since then however he has proven to be a warrior, and someone with desire to not only win, but to put on a show. His 2011 bout with Pornsawan Porpramook, which he won to become the WBA Minimumweight champion, was regarded by many as the Fight of the Year, whilst his 2012 clash with Kazuto Ioka was a massive all-Japanese unification bout. He lost to Ioka but would then move up in weight to claim the WBC and Lineal Flyweight title, defending it several times before running into Roman Gonzalez, at his best. A short reign as the IBF Light Flyweight champion followed, thanks to an often forgotten battle with Javier Mendoza. After being blown out by Milan Melindo in 2017 his career looked over, but 3 stoppage wins have seen his team back him for one more big fight.
For those who haven't seen Yaegashi you've missed out on one of the sports most consistently entertaining fighters of the last decade or so. He's dubbed the Fierce Warrior in Japan and not without good reason. Win or lose he's been in violent wars, fight after fight. Win or lose his face has regularly swollen up in a grotesque mess, a proud bad of war worn with honour by Yaegashi. He's a talented boxer, with light feet and great stamina, but often that boxing ability takes a backwards step as he gets involved in brawls, using his hand speed to out fight opponents. As he's gotten older he's had more and more exchanges, and his 2018 bout with Hirofumi Mukai is a great example of the type of war Yaegashi has needlessly involved himself in.
Sadly for Yaegashi this is the type of match up that doesn't look good for him. Against slower footed fighters he can shine, he can get in, he can get his shots off and he can get out. Against fighters with sharp punches and good timing however he is countered, caught coming in and has his facial swelling playing an issue. As he's aged his punch resistance has dropped and this is a major problem against a fighter like Mthalane.
We see this as being an action fight early on, with Yaegashi taking the fight to Mthalane, getting in and out for a round or two. Then we suspect he gets caught, and his warrior mentality kicks in, before Mthalane begins to break him down, and by the middle rounds a swollen, bloodied and battered Yaegashi is finally stopped by the referee, who will have seen enough.
Prediction - TKO7 Mthalane
The Flyweight division is one of the most interesting right now, with no fighter clearly standing out as being the best. There are strong arguments for any of the champions to be regarded as the number 1. We suspect that Kosei Tanaka will become the top guy, if he stays in the division for a while, but Charlie Edwards, Artem Dalakian and Moruti Mthalane all have a good argument to be regarded as the best.
This coming Monday Moruti Mthalane (37-2, 25) gets a chance to strengthen his claim as the best as he defends his IBF title against mandatory challenger Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16) of Japan. Kuroda isn't the best in the Land of the Rising Sun, that's clearly Tanaka, but is a world class veteran getting his second shoot at a title. Mthlane on the other hand will be getting a chance to make his second defense of second reign, and continue his mini-tour of Asia.
Aged 36 Mthalane is a proper veteran of the sport. He's been a professional since 2000 and is a legitimate 2-time IBF champion with a criminally under-rated resume and a 10 year unbeaten run. He's proven to be a technically excellent fighter with great timing, under-rated speed, brilliant accuracy and very solid defense. Through his career he has typically been an aggressive counter punching fighter, and it's a style that has had real success for the South African.
Going through Mthalane's record is like going through a mini who's who of lower weight fighters from the last decade or so. He's scored notable wins over Hussein Hussein, Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though management issues cost him activity during some of his prime years, and he certainly missed out on some notable opportunities due to poor decision making. Thankfully however he has began to string together a good level of activity, and this will be his third bout in 10 months, following wins over Muhammad Waseem and Masahiro Sakamoto. Also, despite being 36, he is a rather fresh 36 year old, and doesn't appear to be showing much in terms of wear and tear.
Kuroda, himself a 32 year old, is much less well known that Mthalane but is a battled hardened veteran himself with a 14 year career and plenty of experience. He's had one previous world title fight, losing to Juan Carlos Reveco in a WBA title fight back in 2013, but is a 2-weight Japanese national champion, having held the Light Flyweight and Flyweight title. At national level he has scored numerous notable wins, including victories over Katsuhiko Iezumi, Shin Ono and Takuya Kogawa, whilst also fighting to a draw with Ryoichi Taguchi, though he has never really scored a win above domestic level.
Kuroda has proven to be a gruelling warrior in the ring. He does tend to start fights like he's a technical fighter, but always seems to get dragged into a war, ignoring his technical ability and fighting a brawl instead. He's technically solid, when he sticks to his boxing, but has somewhat questionable composure, and seems to be happy to take one to land one whilst fighting on the inside. He's usually in pretty entertaining fights, but has been dropped numerous times during his career, and he's not got the power or speed to really fight with the style he has, at world level.
Although we suspect Mthalane will lose to someone he should beat, due to his age, we don't see that loss coming here. Kuroda has a style that should make life easy for Mthalane, coming forward and trying to fight on the inside. Kuroda will likely have more success than Masahiro Sakamoto did, before he was stopped by Mthalane, but he'll likely face the same sort of beating Sakamoto had, with Mthalane's clean, hard, accurate punching and tight defense being too much for him.
Prediction - TKO9 Mthalane.
In 2018 we've seen the Flyweight division go through some huge changes, and not a single fighter who began the year a world champion is actually still a champion. In fact the longest reigning champion in the division is Artem Dalakian, and his WBA reign only began in February. To end the year the division may have one more sting in the tail, as IBF champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) makes his first defense, of his second reign, and goes up against unheralded Japanese challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9).
The champion is a true veteran of the sport. He turned professional in 2000, as an 18 year old, and got his first big break in 2008, winning an IBF eliminator. Unfortunately he would come up short in his first world title fight, losing by TKO due to cute to Nonito Donaire in Las Vegas, but gave Donaire one of his toughest bouts at the time. Despite losing to Donaire we did see Mthalane claim the title a year later, beating Julio Cesar Miranda for the vacant title. As the champion he would make 4 defenses over 3 years, stopping Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though politics would play a part in hins reign, not only leading to inactivity but also eventually leading to Mthalane vacating, rather than facing Amnat Ruenroeng for a very paltry purse.
Despite vacating the belt Mthalane remained a leading Flyweight contender, and would get a chance to recapture the belt this past July, a chance he made the most of by beating Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem by unanimous decision in Malaysia.
At the age of 36 is ancient for a Flyweight, and with 38 bouts on his record is certainly a fighter who has had a hard career. He has real wars with the likes of Donaire, Nunez, Waseem and Jether Oliva, who gave Mthalane a horribly swollen eye. Despite being old Mthalane is a technical master in the ring, with an excellent boxing IQ, an aggressive style, which can be either that of a pressure fighter or an aggressive counter puncher, and he is a surprisingly quick an powerful fighter. Defensively he's sound, though there are some question marks about his stamina, and he was running on empty in the later rounds against Waseem.
Whilst the champion has long been under-the-radar, hard core fans have known about him for around a decade. The challenger on the other hand is a real unknown for those who don't follow the Asian scene, and more specifically the Japanese scene. He made his first mark on the sport in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Flyweight and would lose his first title bout the following year, losing in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout to future world champion Sho Kimura. Thankfully for Sakamoto he would win that regional title the following year, stopping Kwanthai Sithmorseng, and defend it once, stopping Pigmy Kokietgym. Sadly those are the only 2 wins of major note on his record, and his loss to Kimura came at a time when no one really knew who Kimura was, and was the win that put Kimura on the road for his break out win against Zou Shiming in 2017.
Although Sakamoto hasn't had much TV exposure, aside from his Rookie of the Year stuff, he has got plenty of footage out there on boxingraise. That footage shows a smart fighter, a fighter who thinks about what he's doing, and boxing with his brain. Sadly though it shows a fighter with not exceptional natural talent. He's a a good, steady, boxer, but not a quick one or a monstrous puncher. He's a fighter who appears to have been more about hard work, dedication and gradual development, something that was clear between the loss to Kimura and his wins against the notable Thai's.
With a loss to Kimura it's fair to say that Sakamoto has lost the biggest bout of his career. This bout is bigger though and he will be the clear under-dog. He's up against the most technically proficient fighter he has ever faced, and a man who has a wealth of experience at world level. Sakamoto's team have been developing a game plan for Mthalane for a while, and it's almost certainly one based around making the most of Mthalane's advanced age. Sadly though the Japanese fighter is likely to find himself up against it here.
We would love to see Sakamoto win, and the potential rematch with Kimura or a unification bout with Kosei Tanaka, though the truth is that he is the huge under-dog here. We suspect his lack of experience at this level will be a major problem. We suspect Sakamoto will have moments, but sadly will come up short to the pressure and accuracy of the very talented champion.
The Flyweight division has long been one of the best divisions in the sport, combining both great fighters and amazing bouts. In recent years however it's wobbled a bit as the top guys have gone up in weight and left the 112lb weight class feeling a little bit like a void as fighters begin to step up to bigger challenges. This has seen the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes all abandon the division for success at Super Flyweight. As a result the division currently lacks in terms of x-factor, with good but not amazing champions, like Sho Kimura and Artem Dalakian. We're currently missing a real star in the division, and whilst Cristofer Rosales looks to be the best of the bunch he doesn't have the same allure as a Gonzalez, Estrada or even the now retired Kazuto Ioka.
This coming Sunday we get the chance to see another two fighters throw their hats into the ring to try and become the division's star and the new IBF Flyweight champion. The bout in question will see former champion Moruti Mthalane (35-2, 24) attempt to reclaim the title as he faces off with Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem (8-0, 6).
Of the two men it's Mthalane who is more well known. He is best, internationally, for giving Nonito Donaire a few really tough rounds back in 2008, before being stopped on cuts in round 6. Since then the South African has gone 13-0 (9), with some notable issues with inactivity plaguing his career. Although he hasn't been massively active he has notched up some brilliant wins, including victories over Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly he has, like many African fighters, struggled to get the career defining fights on a big stage and actually gave up the IBF title rather than get paid pennies to face a then unknown Amnat Ruenroeng after 4 defenses.
Since vacating the IBF title Mthalane has been arguably the best Flyweight to essentially be locked out of the title picture. He's too dangerous to face as a voluntary and he was unable to secure a mandatory position until the IBF title was vacated by Donnie Nietes. Despite missing out on a world title fight he has been picking up his activity and he fit 3 fights into 2017, winning all 3 by stoppage.
At the age of 35, soon to be 36, the South African will know that a loss will be the end of his hopes of becoming a 2-time world champion, at least with the 4 big organisations. He is however a tough, skilled, accurate and aggressive fighter with very under-rated power who will look to take the fight to his foe here.
Waseem on the other hand is a bit of an unknown to many fans, and this will be, by far, the highest profile bout of his career. The Pakistani born fighter turned professional in 2015 under the promotional guidance of Andy Kim, who has matched Waseem aggressively and gotten him very high level training. He made his professional debut in a 10 round bout for the Korean Bantamweight title and less than 10 months later he had claimed the WBC Silver Flyweight title. From then on it seemed like he was heading towards a WBC title fight but financial issues almost derailed his career. What had been a fast track to the top approach for Waseem hit a brick wall and he spent 2017 fighting in stay busy fights on under-cards in Panama.
In the ring Waseem has looked like a fighter able to do it all. He can box, he can bang and he can move. He began his career like a fighter wanting to test things, get used to the ring and the distance of a fight, looking like he was working on things all the time. After his 2016 win over Giemel Magramo however he's had to do a lot less to pick up wins and instead beaten some very abject opponents in any way that he wanted. If he can still mix the different styles together then it's very possible that he could use his speed to out fox and bamboozle the hard hitting Mthalane.
At 30 years old Waseem is young enough to have a nice reign, if he comes out on top here, but given his lack of financial backing there is a real issue he could find his reign cut short like Mthalane did when he held the title a few years ago.
Although there is a huge gulf in experience here we do actually favour Waseem. He appears to be the fresher fighter, the fighter who hasn't had the bouts against the likes of Donaire and Nunez. Mthalane is going to be dangerous through the fight, and Waseem can't get lazy, but if he uses his legs, moves and prevents Mthalane from setting his feet there's a great chance for Korea and Pakistan to claim a world champion.
The Flyweight division is one of the most interesting at the moment, with a really nice mix of fighters at the top. We have the destructive Daigo Higa, the crude but gutsy Sho Kimura and the highly experienced Donnie Nietes. The division might not have a huge amount of star power, but it does have a real nice mix of fighters and has the potential to have a huge year in 2018, with the likes of Kosei Tanaka looking to make a mark there.
This coming Saturday we get the chance to see a really interesting match up in the division as the aforementioned Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22) makes his first defense of the IBF title and looks to extend his claim of being the division's elder statesman. In the opposite corner to Nietes will be another veteran, Juan Carlos Reveco (39-3, 19), who will be hunting a third world title to add to his long list of achievements.
Aged 35 Nietes is a bit of a freak for the little weights. He is, for all intents, an ancient fighter and debuted as a professional way back in 2003 within 17 months he had gone 11-0-1, before losing very controversially to Angky Angkotta in Indonesia, whilst being outweighed by 6lbs. Ever since that loss, back in 2004, Nietes has gone unbeaten running up a 29-0-3 record. That is even more impressive when you consider he has fought a huge number of those bouts at world level, and claimed world titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, establishing himself as one of the best little men of his generation and one of the best Filipino fighters ever.
During his 32 fight unbeaten run Nietes has fought in 16 world title bouts, going 15-0-1 (6). On paper those numbers are really good, and even more so when you consider he has beaten fighters like Pornsawan Porpramook, Jesus Silvestre, Moises Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez Jr . What has helped him have such longevity is his high boxing IQ, excellent skills and real understanding of himself and his opponents. He is a really smart boxing who doesn't excel in any physical area but does everything brilliantly. He can box at range and up close, and dictates the tempo and range of a bout brilliantly. He hits hard enough to get the respect of opponents, he's accurate and although he can be out worked be is a real thinking man's fighter who appears to have developed a lot from his experience.
Reveco has also become one of the lower weights veterans, and at 34 he's not much younger than Nietes and debuted just a year later than the Filipino. The talented Reveco raced out to the WBA Light Flyweight title, winning the belt in his 16th bout by stopping Thai Nethra Sasiprapa. His reign was however a short one, and he would lose the title in his second defense as he was out pointed by Frenchman Brahim Asloum, in what was Reveco's first bout outside of Argentina. Within a year of the loss to Asloum we saw Reveco claim the WBA “interim” Light Flyweight title, before moving up in weight and winning the WBA “interim” Flyweight title. That interim title was later upgraded to the full Flyweight title , which he would defend against the likes of Masayuki Kuroda, Ricardo Nunez, Felix Avarado and Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep. Those wins showed that Reveco was a talented, tough and smart fighter with top class body shots and and a real gutsy desire. He also held his own in a very narrow defeat to Kazuto Ioka in April 2015, in a very close bout. A rematch with Ioka however saw the Japanese fighter show a new maturity and stop Reveco with a really stellar performance.
Since lose to Ioka at the end of 2017 we've seen Reveco go 3-0 with a notable win last time out against Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking to earn a crack at the IBF title. He has proven there is still something left in the tank, and against Eaktwan we saw Reveco put on a brilliant performance, using his hand speed, his movement, and his skills to avoid an all out war with the naturally bigger Thai. He will need to use those traits, along with his trademark body punching, if he's to stand a chance here.
With both Nietes and Reveco getting on in age it's hard to know what either man really has left. There is a chance that both have one last great performance, there is also a chance that father time gets to either man. A few years ago this bout would have been something really special, but now, whilst it's still an excellent fight it does feel like the loser will be sent into retirement. That may mean that both men pull out all the stops, but it could also mean neither man has the fire, speed or snap they once had. Going on recent performances we do favour Nietes, who has avoided the wars that Reveco has had, to come out on top, but could certainly see the enducated body shots of Reveco giving the Filipino real problems.
We think this bout could have been a classic 3 years ago, had Nietes moved up back then, or even down at 108lbs. We still still think it'll be a really, really good fight,but can't get over the fact that that they have a combined age of almost 70, and both will have seen better days.
It wasn't that long ago that the Flyweight division looked like the best division in the sport. Sadly a lot of the top Flyweights from a couple of years ago moved up in weight, giving us a super strength Super Flyweight division but essentially leaving the Flyweight division a bit of a mess and a division lacking in terms of depth.
Despite being a mess the Flyweight division is, slowly, taking shape and we've had some notable bouts recently, with more just around the corner. The next of those to take place will see former 2 weight champion Donnie Nietes (39-1-4, 22) battle with Thailand's Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (22-3, 15) to fill the IBF title vacancy. For Nietes the bout could see him becoming a 3-weight champion and solidifying his place as a Filipino legend whilst a win for the Thai would put him on the proverbial boxing map and help make him a fixture on the international boxing scene.
Aged 34, and turning 35 in just a few weeks, Nietes is a properly seasoned veteran, but who who is scarcely showing signs of slow down. That's despite having a career that began back in 2003 and has seen him fight consistently in world title bouts since September 2007, when he claimed the WBO Minimumweight title. During his time at world level he has beaten a who's who of the lower weights, including Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Raul Garcia and Edgar Sosa. He has compiled an amazing 14-0-1 record in world title fights and notched top tier wins in the Philippines, Mexico and US in a career which will almost certainly lead to a place in the HOF.
In the ring we've seen Nietes do it all. At his best he's a counter punching genius but he can fight on the front foot when he wants to, has under-rated power, under-rated speed and is not only technically sound but also has a very high boxing IQ. Given his age it seems clear he is now wanting to add to his legacy, and potentially chase some career defining wins, to add to his strong resume. He is however a fighter who has, at times, looked lazy, lacked the killer instinct and been happy to go through the motions, as he did last time out against Sosa. At his best he could well be one of the best little men in the sport, though failure to face the best Japanese fighters of his era is certainly something that will hang over his head given his long reign on top.
It's clear that Nietes can still go hard and fast for 12 rounds, though he has avoided really damaging bouts for the most part and is one of the freshest 34 year olds in the sport. Even then father time does take it's toll and it's unclear when Nietes will “get old”.
Whilst Nietes is well known at world level, and has long been on the fringes of the pound-for-pound lists with the real hardcore fans, the same cannot be said for Eaktawan, also known as Komgrich Nantapech. In fact the 27 year old Thai is a total unknown outside of Asia, and is hardly known outside of homeland. That's, in part, due to fighting under alternative names early in his career as well as having very little success outside of Thailand. In fact his first three losses, in 2012 to Albert Pagara and in 2013 to Sho Ishida and Froilan Saludar, were all fought under the name Tawanrung Eausampan. Since those losses however he has began to climb through the rankings and looked like a genuine talent with lovely offensive skills and combinations.
Although Eaktawan has shown some real skills, beating the likes of Lionel Legada, Takayuki Okumoto and Jenny Boy Boca there are flaws in his game. He is very much an offensive fighter, who has throws eye catching combinations, looks very relaxed and very fluid in the ring. Sadly he is defensively flawed, leaving openings for counters punches and a slightly open guard. Against a great counter puncher like Nietes he could be punished for his flaws. Saying that however he is likely to be the naturally bigger and stronger fighter against Nietes, and is obviously the younger, less damaged fighter. It's worth noting that his only losses have been above the Flyweight limit, with two losses coming at Bantamweight, and he is clearly a tough fighter.
The Thai is stepping up massively for this fight and although he has a number of advantages the question will be whether he has the skills to beat Neites. The obvious answer is that he doesn't have the skills needed to over-come someone as talented as the Filipino icon. However this is a niggling feeling that Eaktawan is better than his record suggests, and that he has the energy, young and toughness to make this a very tough assignment for Neites. We know that Nietes will be the favourite, and should win, but there is a niggling feeling that the Thai has got the timing right here, and could well spring one of the biggest upsets of 2017.
Over the past few years we've began to see more and more fighters being fast tracked. These have included fighters Kosei Tanaka, Vasyl Lomachenko and Naoya Inoue, who have all claimed world titles in double quick time. The next fighter attempting to win a world title in under 10 bouts is Englishman Charlie Edwards (8-0, 3), who is looking to claim the IBF Flyweight title this coming Saturday, in his 9th professional bout. He's looking to take that title from the very well travelled and genuinely world class Johnriel Casimero (22-3, 14), who looks to record the first defense the title he won in May in China.
Usually we're excited to see fighters being fast tracked. Out excitement in regards to fighters like Hinata Maruta is well known. Sadly for Edwards the problem he's facing here isn't that he's being fast tracked, it's that he's being moved from British level to world level without having gained the skills and experience to really have a fighting chance.
The 23 year old British fighter was a good amateur before turning professional last year. In September last year he claimed the English Flyweight title, beating Louis Norman, and defended it once against Phil Smith. He has also claimed the WBC International Silver Flyweight title, with a win over Luke Wilton.
In many ways Edwards has done what has been asked of him. Sadly for him there is a huge gulf, between the level he has been fighting at and world class. In fact he's not just taking a leap up in class but an elevator up and he has shown little to suggest that he should be taking that ride at this time. He been able to go 10 rounds, albeit against British level fighters who looked relatively limited themselves. What would have been better for the youngster would have been to have fought some higher level fighters to develop the skills and test himself well ahead of a world title opportunity.
Whilst there is a huge gulf between British level Flyweights and world class Flyweights a fight with some one like Ramon Garcia Hirales, Masayuki Kuroda, Alberto Rossel or Pablo Carrillo would have done the world of good for the youngster and helped prepare him for a world class fighter.
Whilst Edwards is a talented but possibly unprepared fighter the same cannot be said of Casimero who is experienced, proven, talented and as gutsy as they come. Those guts have seen him become a modern day road warrior and a 2-weight world champion. He's been fighting at world level since December 2009, when he beaten Cesar Canchila in Nicaragua and has since fought in Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Panama, Thailand and China. Not only has he been fighting on the road but he's been winning there two with his most famous wins coming in Argentina, against Luis Alberto Lazarte, and in China, where he stopped Amnat Ruenroeng earlier this year.
Technically speaking Casimero is bit crude, he's open and defensively he has holes. But he is a world class fighter with explosive speed and thudding power. He's not a steam roller in the ring but having a fight with him is a terrible idea and he's relentless in his pursuit of victory. That was seen when he defeated Lazarte and when he defeated Ruenroeng, with the referee and judges being against him in both fights.
We mentioned that Edwards could have done with facing some fringe level guys in preparation for this bout. As for Casimero, who has faced a who's who including Ardin Diale, Canchila, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moruti Mthalane, Lazarte, Pedro Guevara and Ruenroeng, twice, his competition is stellar and he has scarcely come up short. In fact the loss where he embarrassed himself was his defeat to Mthalane which came far too soon for the Filipino, and we suspect this opportunity has come to soon for Edwards.
Whilst Casimero is flawed he will know that he needs to keep this out of the judges hands that will likely inspire him to be more aggressive than usual. Edwards will start well, bouyed on by his home fans, but we suspect that Casimero's proven world class ability and power will play their part in the latter stages with Edwards simply being ground down by the Filipino.
One of the most controversial bouts last year saw IBF Flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (17-0, 5) [อำนาจ รื่นเริง] successfully retain his title with a decision win over Filipino Johnriel Casimero (21-3, 13). The bout was marred by fouling and wrestling from Ruenroeng, in fact the wrestling completely destroyed any semblance of a boxing contest and annoyingly it was all allowed from referee Larry Doggett, who was embarrassingly bad.
This coming Wednesday, 11 months after their first bout, the men will meet again, this time on neutral ground in China with referee being the world class Tony Weeks. This time around we hope that boxing will be the order of the day, and not wrestling.
At his best Ruenroeng is a real nightmare for anyone at 112lbs. He's 36 but fights like a fresh-faced 20-something year old, he's got great reflexes, he's physically strong, and has freakishly long arms. Despite those traits he is better known for simply being “tricky”, “difficult” and “frustrating”. A fighter who has skills but doesn't rely on his skills and instead relies on tricks, something that seems to be used to cover up what flaws he has, including possible issues with stamina.
When it comes to Casimero the Filipino was a fantastic Light Flyweight, combining skills, power, speed and genuine explosiveness to be an offensive nightmare. He combined those traits with a road warriors mentality and a real mental toughness, a toughness that saw him claim major wins across the planet. At Flyweight he may be outsized and out powered, but he is still explosive and could, potentially, still give some very good fighters some absolute nightmares.
Given how the first fight went we are expecting the rules to be bent by Amnat, but we think that the Thai will be punished for repeated infractions this time around. Notably what pure boxing did occur in the first fight saw Amnat look the better man, getting his shots first and and getting away without taking much in return.
If Amnat can box, and frustrate Casimero legally then there is very little chance for Casimero, who will have little more than a punchers chance. If, however, Casimero can control the action, make it a fight, albeit a clean one, then he has a chance to wear down the 36 year old Thai, who has shown some questionable stamina and is a very advanced age for a Flyweight.
We suspect Amnat will win, we suspect the bout will be messy and dirty but we think the win will be less controversial than the one he scored when the men first met just less than a year ago.
Over the last few years we've seen the lower weight divisions getting attention due to a number of exciting and action based fighters. Through fighters, such as Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada, fans have been given some really fun fights. Whilst it has been those action fighters that have brought the attention to those divisions we also have a few fighters who stand out for other reasons, such as the dirty, tricky and ugly Amnat Ruenroeng (16-0, 5), who is perhaps the most stylistically frustrating of any of the smaller men in the sport.
Ruenroeng came to the attention of the hardcore fans back when he was an amateur though really it was last year that he came out of nowhere to claim the IBF Flyweight title, with a decision win over Rocky Fuentes. The win over Fuentes began a run of great results for the Thai who has since beaten Kazuto Ioka, McWilliams Arroyo, Zou Shiming and Johnriel Casimero, with the wins over Ioka and Shiming coming on the road. The wins haven't always been pretty but they have seen Ruenroeng show various facets to his game, including his boxing ability, physical strength and dirty tricks.
Although Ruenroeng is 35, in fact he's coming up to 36, he's a very young 35 and hasn't been in the wars that age a fighter. In fact he's got the speed, stamina, timing and strength of a much younger man. It's fair to say that he's the youngest 35 year old in boxing today.
On December 7th Ruenroeng returns to the ring for his 5th defense of the IBF Flyweight title as he takes on little known Japanese challenger Myung Ho Lee (19-4-1, 6). For Amnat the bout is regarded as a foregone conclusion before a possible unification bout next year, for Lee however the opportunity is a huge one, and a chance for him to end the rise of the Thai.
The Japanese challenger really is very unknown outside of Asia, though has fought in Mexico once where he gave Edgar Sosa a very tough outing 3 years ago. The Sosa bout, which ended in a majority decision loss for Lee, is really the most notable of Lee's bout, though he has also suffered defeats to Rocky Fuentes and Rey Megrino, whilst also fighting to a draw with Hirofumi Mukai. In regards to wins his most notable came more than 4 years ago when he beat Shin Ono.
Although not considering as one of the best Flyweights in Japan Lee is a man worth giving some attention too. He's one of only 3 men to lose a decision to Megrino, one of the sports most criminally under-rated punchers who has stopped 6 of his last 7 foes including Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and Ernesto Saulong, he was also able to hold his own with 2-time world title challenger Mukai and given his experience he could well ask some genuine question of Amnat.
Although Lee is no pushover, and could well go into the bout with Amnat with a rough gameplan, it is hard to see him becoming the first Japanese fighter to claim a world title in Thailand. The likely outcome is that Lee does give Amnat a few problems, especially if he fights dirty against one of the dirtiest players in the game, but he'll not have the skills to shine when he needs them, like Amnat does. As a result we have to expect the champion to retain with a clear, but rough, decision.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.